Rising from the ashes

Mike Halldorson and Charles Hepburn look in at the charred remains of their building, including a sort-all filing system they found on top.

Mike Halldorson and Charles Hepburn look in at the charred remains of their building, including a sort-all filing system they found on top.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Halldorson Tri-County Appliance’s building on Ninth Street went up in flames on Friday, June 16. But that didn’t stop the business’ owners, Mike Halldorson and Charles Hepburn, from reporting to work on Monday.

“As we were watching it burn, someone on the sidewalk said something very troubling,” Hepburn said. “He said, ‘Well, it looks like Halldorson’s is out of business.’ But it’s not. The building is gone—the business is still here.”

The building was the victim of a sort of freak accident. According to a news release from the Chico Police Department, at about 5:20 that Friday afternoon detectives located a parolee-at-large driving in the Chapmantown area and pursued him. When he picked up speed, they let him go for public safety’s sake. About five miles away, and still going at excessive speed, the suspect tried to make a turn onto Ninth Street and struck Halldorson’s building, including a natural-gas main out front. A fire erupted immediately. Neighbors were evacuated. The suspect was located in a nearby back yard and arrested.

When Hepburn got the call that the building was burning, he said, “Your first reaction is disbelief. Like, ‘Are you kidding?’ And your second reaction is, ‘Oh crap!'”

“And your third thought is, ‘I hope it isn’t something we did,'” added Halldorson.

“We’re just thankful nobody was hurt,” Hepburn said. He had closed for the day about 10 minutes prior to the fire.

Monday, June 19, the two scrambled to get things up and running in a donated office space on Fifth Street. And they rented a warehouse to hold parts. People in the community donated the office space, furniture and their support. Even some of Halldorson Tri-County Appliance’s competitors offered help.

“We’re putting things together at hyper-sonic speed,” Halldorson said.

One important thing, Hepburn said, about getting up and running on Monday was to show the company’s employees that they’d have a place to report to work. Seeing your place of business in flames on TV can be really scary, he said. The company has five employees, not including its owners.

Halldorson’s appliance business has been around since the early 1960s, and Hepburn has been in the business on and off since the late ‘60s. In 2001 Halldorson’s and Hepburn’s companies merged. Halldorson had occupied the Ninth Street building for 12 years.

The two men, standing beside what is now a pile of debris, looked in through a window at what was left. Charred everything. One of their repair vehicles that had been ready to hit the road was reduced to a skeleton. The ground was covered with broken glass and ash, which still smelled fresh even three days after the fire.

Halldorson motioned toward one side of the building, near what looked to be the main entrance. The gas main was bent almost to the ground.

Although the building was deemed a total loss, not all was lost. Vital files and inventory were saved in a fire-safe file cabinet. And the company’s service technicians had taken their trucks home for the night, so their equipment is still intact.

Other things, like old parts catalogues and customers’ appliances, can’t be replaced.

“One customer had a pair of 1950s Westinghouse ovens,” Hepburn said.

“Yeah, they were beautiful too, stainless steel,” Halldorson replied.

In addition to running the appliance business, Halldorson is also an artist. After moving out of his studio, he placed much of his collection in the Ninth Street building. An entire room had been full of his prints and etchings, and since they were near the gas main, and the heart of the fire, they weren’t salvageable.

“C’est la vie,” he said, shrugging.

Halldorson Tri-County Appliance is temporarily located at 802 W. Fifth Street.